Since I started styling my textured hair more frequently and straightening it less often last year, there was something that I noticed about the curly advice out there: Curl gels kind of get a bad rap. Whenever I’d reach out to people for styling advice, they would recommend a curl cream to coax definition into my hair rather than a gel. Yes, using curl gels in the wrong way can lead to crispy, crunchy or stringy curls, but—trust me—adding a curl gel has been the best thing for my styling routine.
For me, I like to use gels when I'm doing my braid- and twist-outs for any hope of getting definition into my thick, coily hair. And if you like to wash and go, then you can actually apply most curl gels to wet hair and work them through with a Denman brush or while you finger-coil. Personally, creams have never given me enough hold thanks to their high moisture content, but if you're worried about gels leaving your strands feeling parched, then press in a light oil before your hair dries to seal moisture in.
But which are the best gels to try for your bounciest, most defined curls ever? Ahead, keep scrolling for 16 of the very best gels for curly hair.
#1: Umberto Giannini Curl Jelly Scrunching Jelly
This is a firm favourite of mine. It’s designed for scrunching into wet hair, but I apply it section by section as I braid. When it’s dry, you scrunch each section in your palms to break the cast for a silky bounce.
#2: Imbue Curl Empowering Crème Gel
If you aren’t a fan of product cocktailing, this is a great option for a gel-cream hybrid. The creamy texture is moisturising (thanks to the jojoba and coconut oils), but it gives slightly more hold than a regular curl cream.
#3: Ouidad Advanced Climate Control Heat and Humidity Gel
Got hair that doubles at the first hint of moisture? You’ll love this anti-humidity gel from Ouidad. It’s a runny texture but sets coils and curls in place without looking stringy. Plus, it protects from UV rays, so it’s a good pick for holidays (when we can go on them again, anyway).
#4: Camille Rose Naturals Curl Maker Curling Jelly
The oil base of this gel—coconut and castor—seals in moisture to ensure your coils don’t feel dried out. It also includes extracts of pomegranate, seaweed and aloe for maximum softness.
#5: Eco Style Olive Oil Styling Gel
Yes, you may have used this to style your baby hairs in the early noughties, but it’s a good high-street option for the rest of your hair too. Don’t load this one up too much: Less is more for a non-crispy lightweight finish.
#6: Cantu Shea Butter for Natural Hair Moisturizing Twist & Lock Gel
This gel is specifically great for twist-outs. It locks in your style and calms any frizz that normally crops up between washdays.
#7: Bumble and Bumble Curl Anti-Humidity Gel Oil
For those of us who find shrinkage a problem, this gel-oil mix stretches out coils for soft definition. Don’t let the dual formula put you off—the oil just helps with shine, but the texture is a true gel.
#8: Bouclème Super Hold Styler
With chia seed, blue agave, algae sugars, linseed and kahai oil, this gel is full of brilliant natural ingredients to nourish as it holds. The set is incredible with zero crunch.
#9: Living Proof Curl Defining Gel
#10: DevaCurl Ultra Defining Gel
For a runnier-textured gel, this has great hold when applied to wet hair. With wheat, soy and corn proteins, it aids in strengthening curls too.
#11: Shea Moisture Raw Shea & Cupuaçu Frizz Defense Gel Cream
We all know how great shea butter is for sealing in hydration, and this gel teams that with Amazonian cupuaçu butter and pistachio oil for great shine once fully dried.
#12: Twisted Sista Amazing Dream Curls
If you have fine-textured hair, you’re likely to love this gel. It’s alcohol-free but gives a great crunch-less hold. The formula includes almond, coconut and avocado oils for extra nutrition.
#13: Briogeo Curl Charisma Rice Amino + Quinoa Frizz Control Gel
There's no risk of stiff, unmovable curls with this gel. It's a premium option, but when it dries, the hold is naturally flexible with definition. The rice amino acids in the formula soften texture while the quinoa extract strengthens hair so it's ready for styling.
#14: KeraCare Defining Custard
Despite the name, there’s nothing gloopy or sticky about the texture of this gel. It’s infused with argan oil for a shiny, healthy-looking finish.
#15: Design Essentials Almond & Avocado Defining Gel Crème
The creamy texture of this gel means it suits thick hair best. A light application will give a medium hold for twist-outs once dried.
#16: Oribe Curl Gelée
Most gels should be used on wet hair, but this one sits better on damp coils. When it dries, it gives medium hold with a natural feel thanks to the avocado butter, apricot and macadamia oils.